Dremel vs. Drill: Which Tool Is Best For Your Job?

Considering that they both essentially just spin around really fast on an axis, have you ever wondered or asked yourself what the real difference is, other than size, between a dremel vs a drill?

It’s a fair enough question, to be honest, and we get plenty of people asking whether they might just use one in place of the other.

As it turns out, though, there are some fairly significant ‘technical’ distinguishments between the two tools that you ought to be aware of before you, for example, set out to build a picket fence with your spanking new 1.5-amp rotary dremel.

Read on to find out the answers to all those simple questions you were too shy to ask in the hardware store.

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Dremel vs. Drill: What does each do?

Cordless drills are pretty much used for two things: drilling holes, and driving screws. Rotary dremels, on the other hand, have dozens of different uses: cutting, grinding, sanding, polishing, engraving, inlaying, routing… and on and on and on. Surprisingly enough, two things that it doesn’t really do all that well is drilling holes, and driving screws.

But why is that?

It comes down to torque and rpm. While rotary dremels have a much higher rpm than standard cordless drills (upwards of 30,000 compared to about 1,500 on a top-end drill), they don’t even compare in terms of overall power (torque). I don’t know what kind of torque a dremel tool might actually put out, but I know for a fact it wouldn’t come close to the 600 or so in lbs that a good cordless drill produces.

What this translates to in terms of practical use is that a dremel would be relatively useless if you were to try and use it, for example, to drive a deck screw into a 2x4; it takes a lot of power to do that, and dremel tools don’t have power -- they have speed.

Think of it this way: you have a skinny little wiry guy that can run as fast as lightning, and you have a big burly guy that’s built like a tank, but moves slow as a turtle. Which one would be more effective at, for example, moving a heavy boulder that’s sitting in the middle of a road? The fast guy could get a running start and drop kick that thing going like 25 mph, but he wouldn’t have the power to budge it an inch.

What the dremel lacks in power, though, it more than makes up for in speed, which is why it’s great for things like sanding, grinding, polishing, and cutting -- things that require super high rpms (and good bits) rather than torque.

Another big difference between dremels and drills is that dremels are designed to output forces perpendicular to the drive shaft, whereas drills are designed to take forces parallel to the shaft.

An easy way to visualize this is to picture a cutoff wheel mounted on the shaft of the dremel; the ‘blade’ of the wheel sits at a 90-degree angle to the drive shaft, whereas a drill bit, for example, runs perfectly parallel to a drill’s shaft (and of course a large part of this is that you use your body weight as well when using a drill).

Can Dremel Bits be Used with a Cordless Drill?

This is another question that we hear a lot of, and it’s a reasonable enough one.

The short answer is that no, you cannot use dremel bits in a cordless drill. Technically the narrow-shafted rotary bits do fit into the three-jawed chuck on a drill, but using them to their functional capacity would be like trying to slice boned ham with a butter knife.

The only thing that you might remotely get some productivity out of in a drill would be one of those dremel sanding/grinding stones, although due to the lack of rpm’s you wouldn’t be able to grind off much material unless you’re working on something like a piece of styrofoam.

And of course, the standard hex shaft on drill and driver bits is too wide to fit into a rotary tool, so it’s not even a physical possibility to use drill bits in a dremel. (I just pictured a Phillips-head driver bit spinning around at 30,000 rpm and had a near rofl’ing moment).

Now, in an absolute pinch or emergency situation you might be able to get some sort of productivity out of a dremel bit used in a cordless drill, but for all practical purposes it’s not really an option. To put it bluntly, in other words, your drill is not an adequate substitute for a multi-use dremel tool (or vice-versa).

Dremel vs. Drill: A Few of our Top Picks

If you were checking out this article because you thought you might be able to get away with and use a drill instead of a dremel (or use a dremel instead of a drill), we do apologize if we went and burst your bubble.

However, both dremels and cordless drills are (relatively speaking) pretty inexpensive tools, so if you’re looking to add one or the other to your power tool arsenal, here’s a few of our top picks for each. (And of course be sure to check out our complete - and updated! - drill and dremel buying guides here and here, respectively).

Dremel vs. Drill: A Few of our Favorites

Dremel 4000 Variable Speed Rotary Tool

Last update on 2024-02-05 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

This the best rotary tool ever, all jokes aside. Dremel has several different model multi-tools out there to choose from, but if you’re going to buy just one (like most normal folks do), the 4000 is easily the best for general, all-purpose use.

There are several kits you can buy that come with an array of bits/accessories (the more bits you have the more “multi-use” your multi-use tool is), but the best value in our book is the 4-34; 4 attachments and 34 different bits/accessories. One of of our favorite values in the whole wide world of power tools.

Dremel 710-08 All-Purpose 160-piece Accessory/Bit Set

Last update on 2024-01-28 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

This one is the bee’s knees in terms of the “be-all end-all” dremel tool/bit accessory kit. Like we just mentioned, the more bits you have for your dremel the more uses you’ll find for it, and you won’t find a kit that comes with more accessories than this one; the 160-pieces will be more than enough to keep you tooling around (pun!) for years to come out in the garage.

DeWalt 771C2 20V MAX Cordless Drill

Last update on 2022-08-11 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

The almighty workhorse - this is our #1 favorite cordless drill of all time, hands down.

Yes, there are more expensive drills out there, and sure, there are probably better ones, but all we can say is we’ve been using this DeWalt model for years on end and beat the tarnation out of it on almost a daily basis, and all it does is keeps coming back for more.

For the price and performance, it just can’t be beat in our book.

Bottom Line: Dremel vs. Drill

I think we’ve already gone ahead and answered the question of “can I use a drill as a dremel” thoroughly enough, but in case you skipped to the end of the article here, this is the general rundown: the lack of torque in a dremel and lack of speed (rpm) in a drill make them very different tools, with very different uses -- you can’t substitute one for the other.

While you can fit dremel bits into a drill, you’ll get hardly zero performance out of them due to the lack of rpm’s. Hopefully that’s enough to clarify the old dremel vs. drill existential crisis and put it to bed once and for all.

About Russ Thompson

Hey I'm Russ and I have been a contractor for over 20 years. I know what the cost of having the right tools and materials for the job. My passion for woodworking and helping others by workshops in my wood shop. I have beginner classes all the way up expert trade classes. Check out my bio for more.

1 thought on “Dremel vs. Drill: Which Tool Is Best For Your Job?”

  1. Good information here!. Thanks

    I just bought something from Amazon using your link, but I did not purchase the exact item in the link because it was over my budget. I hope you still got the affiliate commission.


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